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Autopsy report: Oak Ridge murder suspects strangled woman, froze body, applied wounds after death

The Anderson County Attorney General filed paperwork for the death penalty against Sean Finnegan and Rebecca Dishman for the murder of Jennifer Paxton.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A man and woman suspected of murdering and torturing a woman could face the death penalty in Tennessee if convicted in their upcoming trial.

Jennifer Paxton, a 36-year-old from Oak Ridge, died of strangulation. Her death was ruled a homicide, according to the report from the medical examiner. 

The report said once police arrived at Rebecca Dishman and Sean Finnegan's apartment, they found Paxton's body was less than 30 feet from a large up-right freezer, with pizzas and burritos inside. 

The body was frozen when authorities got to the house enclosed in two trash bags, the medical examiner's report said. 

The medical examiner's office said they found multiple wounds, "all but one apparently postmortem." 

Some of those wounds: the report said "the soft tissues of the nose" and "the left ear have been cut away." 

That report said Rebecca Dishman told a neighbor she and her boyfriend Sean Finnegan had a body in their freezer.

The neighbor told the Campbell County Sheriff's Office who passed the information along to Anderson County Sheriff's Office and Oak Ridge Police. 

Anderson County District Attorney General Dave Clark said Dishman and Finnegan murdered Paxton in December 2019 and police discovered the body in August 2020. 

Clark's office charged the pair with First Degree Murder, Aggravated Rape, Aggravated Kidnapping, Abuse of Corpse and Tampering with Evidence, according to a release. 

In May 2021, an Anderson County grand jury also indicted the two on two counts of aggravated rape and 18 counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor. The charges imply the child was 8 years old or younger.

His office announced Monday it is now pursuing the death penalty for the pair. The last time an East Tennessean was sentenced to death was 2009.

Knoxville Attorney T. Scott Jones said a death penalty case opens up a "whole other avenue of resources" for the defense. 

Jones said each defendant gets two lawyers with an unlimited budget if they are assigned by the court. 

"What you're trying to do is to mitigate against the death penalty, that is to engender sympathy from the jury," said Jones. 

Anybody who is given the death penalty is entitled to appeals in both the state and federal system "because we're dealing with the taking of a life," Jones said.

The case is scheduled for court on March 4, 2022 in Anderson County Circuit and Criminal Court. Judge Steve Sword from Knox County will preside over the case because Anderson County Judge Ryan Spitzer withdrew due to being involved with the case as a prosecutor before being appointed as judge by Governor Bill Lee.  

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